Flashy cars from the '50s and '60s fetch big prices

At the Arizona classic car auctions, muscle is still king but 'bling' is in, too.

By Peter Valdes-Dapena, CNNMoney.com staff writer

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- American "bling" from the 1950s and '60s is expected to make a big showing at Barrett-Jackson's annual collector car auction in Scottsdale, Ariz.

Cadillacs, Lincolns and Chryslers with big fins and big engines will be getting lots of attention from well-heeled collectors, Barrett-Jackson president Steve Davis said. Especially convertibles.

1960 Cadillac
This 1960 Cadillac Series 62 convertible, once bought by Pamela Anderson for Kid Rock, sold for $155,000.

The auction started Tuesday, but Friday through Sunday are expected to be the biggest days in terms of high-dollar sales. The event is expected to attract 225,000 visitors and more 1,200 cars will be sold.

A 1961 Chrysler 300G convertible, painted in "mardi gras red" and sporting chrome-tipped tailfins, took the top price Tuesday, going for $140,800. That car marked the tail end - so to speak - of the era of finned cars. It was the last year they appeared on a Chrysler 300.

Gallery: Big sales from auction

On Wednesday, a 1960 Cadillac convertible that had been bought by Pamela Anderson for then-fiancee Kid Rock, then subsequently given back to her when two broke up, sold for $155,000. The car was consigned for sale by a subsequent owner, not Anderson, according to Barrett-Jackson.

At Thursday's auction, top dollar went to another big Cadillac, a 1957 model. Also Series 62 convertible, this one, black with a red interior, sold for for $222,000.

These aren't just "used cars," of course. Cars that fetch these sorts of prices are in pristine condition, fully restored and extremely desirable to begin with. (In other words, don't think you're going to make a mint selling your father's 1975 Mercury Cougar.)

On Friday, a high-finned 1959 Cadillac Eldorado Seville with only 2,240 miles sold for $165,000. The car is believed to be the lowest-mileage '59 Cadillac in the world, according to Barrett-Jackson

The Eldorado's mileage is so low because on Feb. 9, 1959, when the car was still brand new, it was found on a back street in Nashua, N.H., with the owner's dead body stored in its trunk.

The car was then impounded as evidence in the murder of the owner, Maurice Gagnon, who ran a plastic molding company. Gagnon's alleged killers were sentenced to death but later paroled, according to Barrett-Jackson.

The Eldorado was found in 1981 in a warehouse, still standing on its original tires. It also has its original battery.

The car is expected to fetch a high price because of its virtually showroom-new condition, not because of its sordid past, said Steve Davis, president of Barrett-Jackson.

"If you just picked one car to represent the '50s it would be the '59 Cadillac," Davis said.

Offering what a 1959 magazine ad called "A new realm of motoring majesty," the Eldorado has air suspension, power seats, power windows, air suspension and a power-closing trunk.

Muscle still flexing

Classic muscle cars from the 1960s and early '70s are still the main attraction at these auctions, however.

A car purported to be the most valuable muscle car in the world will be crossing the auction block at a competing RM Auctions event in nearby Phoenix on Friday afternoon.

That car, a 1971 Plymouth Hemi 'Cuda convertible, is estimated to be worth as much as $5 million. It is one of just 11 Hemi 'Cuda convertibles produced that year.

The cars that end up being worth the most as collectibles generally have three things in common, said Larry Batton, president of the Auto Appraisal Group, a company that estimates automobile values.

"They would have been expensive, fast and impractical," he said.

That explains why big-engined muscle cars with convertible tops are especially valuable today, Batton said.

While seven-figure prices for classic muscle cars are rare, the Barrett-Jackson auction routinely sees six-figure prices paid for desirable and well-restored Chevrolet Camaros, Shelby Mustangs and Pontiac GTOs.

Chevrolet Corvettes from the late 1950s and '60s, while not technically "muscle cars," are also getting big bids at Barrett-Jackson.

"If you were in the market for a Corvette, you have five, six, eight or ten of them in one place," said Mike Yager, founder of Mid America MotorWorks, a company that supplies parts for classic Corvettes.

Yager paid $278,000 for a one-of-a-kind 1964 Corvette at another auction last year. He expects it to eventually be worth $750,000 to $1 million.

Fast times, big money

An auction like this allows buyers to find really unique cars in one place. And with that many committed buyers, things can get very competitive.

That's another reason, besides the inherent value of the cars, that prices can get so high.

"If I wanted [a particular car] for my collection I would stand there with my hand in there until it was mine," he said.

Then there's also all the hype, including the broadcasting of the event on Cable TV's Speed channel, which can egg on bidders to sometimes pay more than they should, said appraiser Batton.

"Your first feeling is that it's unbelievable, but it is," he said.

The general party atmosphere is just part of the event, though, Davis said.

"What we want to do is to facilitate their desire in a way that makes this the most pleasurable experience possible for them," he said.

CNN's Warrior One, a customized Hummer SUV, will be auctioned by Barrett-Jackson on Saturday.

Gallery: Big sales from auction

CNN Warrior One

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